Storytelling isn’t a new concept when it comes to communicating with consumers. It’s a powerful way to connect them with your brand, but it can also be an impactful method to influence shoppers as they are actively considering a purchase. Shopper marketing is focused almost entirely on promotions, product attributes, comparisons, collaborations between retailer and brand, and programs that build equity by engaging shoppers. But given the strength of storytelling, there could be a way to effectively apply it to the shopper communication strategy.
Reality Check: What Shopper Communications Look Like Today
Shopper marketing deploys a number of diverse tactics to influence purchase behaviors, from the choice in lighting and colors to scents and signage. It tends to be tailored for the shopper’s subconsciousness rather than active reasoning, especially in-store. However, there’s a switch that occurs between the advertising aimed at capturing consumers and the way brands aid shopper consideration of products. Despite the subconscious factors, brands abandon the storytelling featured in other elements geared towards their shopper audience. This straightforward communication is part of what the shopper is looking for and sometimes a value add, like the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program, which is a food rating system that uses in-store signage. But most of the time, these practical communications are limited to product attributes, prices, and promotions. This leaves something to be desired when it comes to the shopper experience.
Reasoning: Stories Stimulate Emotions, Influence Shopping Behavior
Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool that’s been leveraged by brands in marketing for a long time. This is because of the way stories tap into the human psyche, namely emotion. Studies have shown that emotional appeals impact consumer decisions, even on a surface level — for instance, fear elicited in anti-smoking ads affects purchases of smoking cessation products. Similarly, regret or pride is tied to self-responsibility, which drives the purchase of beauty or skincare products providing SPF protection. This is aside from the studies that support the idea that emotion is required to be able to make decisions at all. Additional studies reveal facts often don’t impact people’s opinions about a topic, no matter how important it is, whereas a story can either strengthen their opinion or cause them to pause and reprocess their position.
This information isn’t new to brands. When a company wants to leverage marketing to position itself as a top consideration for consumers, it turns to storytelling. This allows them to build the ideas of quality and shared values. But telling stories only reaches as far as a retailer’s threshold, when brands suddenly expect shoppers to make a decision logically.
When 70% of a shopper’s decision is made in-store, this strategy is flawed. Stories should carry a shopper all the way to the checkout line. This can be even more important as shoppers continue to diversify, coming to a store at different times with different needs and expectations. In one study, a winemaker compared a catalog listing with tasting notes, to a listing with an additional photo of the winemaker and a focus on the winemaker’s story. The story provided a 5% lift in consideration and willingness to pay 6% more for the wine.
Brand and Retailer Success: How Stories Are Told
Retailers have already started to adjust to the storytelling approach to communicate. Kroger and Wegmans addressed the shopper experience. Kroger developed a new website to share stories, largely on its employees, giving its branding a human face. While that’s too new to show real impact, Wegmans in-store experience has developed its own following. It’s the chain’s focus on atmosphere and a staff of associates that are passionate about their jobs and the items they sell — all framed from a customer’s point of view — that increases popularity around a new store opening.
Brands such as Tyson, on the other hand, have committed to in-depth research into the emotional triggers for in-store decisions. It realized that even signs all over the store featuring what should appeal to a family — posters promoting a family dinner include a rotisserie chicken with the appealing price of $5.99 — escape the shopper’s attention. Price isn’t the motivator for those shoppers; Tyson has found that resonating with the shopper’s underlying emotional beliefs about family dinners do significantly more to drive the company’s profits.
Tips: Start Telling Stories
If you’re not already using storytelling as a marketing tactic, consider starting today. If you are already using this strategy, position it closer to the purchase decisions. Here are some tips:
- Understand the stories that will appeal to your shoppers. This will probably require diving deeper into your target audience’s relationship with your brand and niche than the typical survey.
- Change the way you approach in-store messages. Price and product attributes can be important, but stories will appeal to shopper’s emotional needs at the point of sale.
- Don’t limit your stories to your marketing. Build a home for your stories, whether it’s in-store or on your website. Make it accessible and pervasive.
- Integrate influencers to help tell your story. Influencers are perceived as authentic and trustworthy, and they generate a lot of loyalty. The way they experience your brand will be shared with their audience too.
- Make customers a part of your story. In part, this should happen in-store, but the digital age has given you the tools to do this directly. Borden excelled at this with its sweepstakes in 2016 by inspiring user-generated content (and widely sharing thus their enthusiasm and experiences).
It’s a simple truth that shoppers don’t want a sales pitch, and message touchpoints that reach them close to their purchase decision can have the most impact on the choice they make. When storytelling is such a compelling way to connect with shoppers, it only makes sense to integrate this type of communication across your marketing strategy. Leverage stories that will move them emotionally and position your brand in the right way, and you’ll see results.